Difference between Federalists and Democratic Republicans

Updated on February 24, 2018

The Democratic-Republican Party and the Federalist Party were the two American political parties that opposed each other from the end of the 18th century to the beginning of the 19th century. The founder of the American financial system, Alexander Hamilton, received opposition to the financial plan he proposed which mainly came from one of the American Founding Fathers, Thomas Jefferson. As a result of this, the two parties emerged, which were led by Hamilton (Federalists) and Jefferson (Democratic-Republicans), hence the occasional titles of the two- Hamiltonians and Jeffersonians.

In this article we will examine the differences between the two parties.


A portrait of Alexander Hamilton, the founder of the Federalists party, by John Trumbull, 1806

While the Federalist Party was the first official political party in the history of the United States of America, it actually had two versions:

  1. The 1780s version: Federalists favored the ratification of the U.S. Constitution and were for a stronger central government. At this time they were not a political party.
    Key figures among federalists at that time were John Jay, Alexander Hamilton, and James Madison. Together they were the authors of The Federalist Papers. The latter politician was one of the authors of the U.S. Constitution.
  2. The 1790s version: At this time federalists became the actual political party, and were led by the aforementioned Alexander Hamilton.
A portrait of Thomas Jefferson, the founder of the Democratic-Republican Party, while in London in 1786, by Mather Brown

Democratic-Republicans are also sometimes referred to as Democrats, Republicans, or Jeffersonians.

The key figures in this party were James Madison and his protégé Thomas Jefferson.

The founding fathers of the United States of America did not actually envision any political parties; they were not even mentioned in the U.S. Constitution. As political parties started developing, George Washington even warned people not to be involved with them.

The Democratic – Republican Party came to power in 1800 in opposition to the Federalist Party, and dominated national and state affairs until the 1820s.

Federalists vs Democratic Republicans

What is the difference between Federalists and Democratic-Republicans?

  • The Federalists had support from wealthy people and from the upper class. The Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, were supported largely by commoners and the middle class.
  • The Federalists had a loose interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Alexander Hamilton stated that whatever is not forbidden in the Constitution, can be done. Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, stipulated that the Constitution is to be strictly interpreted, meaning the Government must only do things that are stated in the Constitution. Unless the Constitution gives power to Congress to do something, it can’t be executed at all.

    A Democratic-Republican Party cockade
    A Democratic-Republican Party cockade
  • The Federalists were a pro-British party. Alexander Hamilton was an advocate of trade, and he saw the British Empire as a powerful country, with which good trading relationships could benefit the United States’ economy. The Democratic Republicans, on the other hand, were a pro-French party. They appreciated French politics and were allies with them during the French Revolution period. The Jeffersonians also distrusted the British Monarchy in all respects, trade included.

    A black and white cockade
    A black and white cockade, used in the American Revolution and by the Federalist Party
  • The Federalists thought that the economy of the United States should be based on merchants and trade. Democratic Republicans, on the other hand, believed that the economy of the United States should be based on agriculture, with farming being the backbone.
  • The Federalists were supporters of the First Bank of the United States. They thought it would stimulate the economy and help build credit. The Democratic-Republicans, on the other hand, didn’t like the First version of the Bank of the United States. They thought it favored the wealthy, and also were against it because the U.S. Constitution never stated anything about it.

Comparison chart

The Federalists The Democratic-Republicans
Supporters: wealthy people, aristocratsSupporters: commoners, middle-class
What the Constitution doesn’t forbid, can be doneThe Constitution must be strictly interpreted
Economy should be based on merchants and tradeEconomy should be based on agriculture
For the First Bank of the United StatesAgainst the First Bank of the United States
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